Ilan Goldenberg spends some time listening to some folks who have experience dealing with Iranian officials and with difficult negotiations, and it turns out that nobody thinks table-pounding threats to keep military force “on the table” are a useful negotiating tool. Weirdly, it turns out that these experts believe the Iranian government is capable of realizing that the U.S. could, in principle, drop bombs on Iran based on their ability to perceive objective reality. They also claim that leading with idle threats to launch wars makes you look unreasonable, and tends to poison the wells for productive talks.
Strange stuff — sounds like appeasement talk to me.
The Bush administration’s demand for 58 permanent bases in Iraq — a near doubling of the current 30 bases — are causing Iraqis to warn that the status of forces agreement would be “more abominable than the occupation.” The administration is reportedly holding hostage “some $50bn of Iraq’s money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement.”
The reason the White House is so hell-bent on signing a long-term agreement may have less to do with Iraq and more to do with Iran. According to press reports of the ongoing negotiations, the Bush administration is seeking the “power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq.” Ali al Adeeb, a leading member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, confirmed:
The Americans insist so far that is they who define what is an aggression on Iraq and what is democracy inside Iraq…if we come under aggression we should define it and ask for help.
The administration’s request would seemingly allow the U.S. to brand Iran as an enemy of Iraq and attack Iran in the name of defending Iraq pursuant to a legal obligation under the status of forces agreement.
Other details from press accounts confirm that the Bush administration has one eye on Iran in the course of its negotiations with Iraqis. The Washington Post explains that the administration is seeking “the prerogative for U.S. forces to conduct operations without approval from the Iraqi government.” Moreover, the U.S. wants control over Iraq’s airpsace:
The American negotiators also called for continued control over Iraqi airspace and the right to refuel planes in the air, according to [Sami al-Askari, a leading Shiite politician], positions he said added to concerns that the United States was preparing to use Iraq as a base to attack Iran.
McCainblogger Mike Goldfarb complains that criticisms of McCain’s “not too important when the troops come home” gaffe lack context.
Okay, here’s the complete exchange from the Today show:
MATT LAUER: If it [the surge] is working, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?
MCCAIN: No, but that’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany, that’s all fine. American casualties, and the ability to withdraw. We will be able to withdraw, General Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are, but the key to it is that we don’t want any more Americans in harm’s way, and that way they will be safe, and serve our country, and come home with honor, in victory, not in defeat, which is what Senator Obama’s proposal would have done. And I’m proud of them, and they’re doing a great job, and we are succeeding, and it’s fascinating that Senator Obama still doesn’t realize that.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s the lack of context that’s got Goldfarb upset, I think it’s that people are no longer choosing to interpret McCain’s incoherent answers in the most charitable way possible.
And, as always, left out of any of McCain’s various formulae for how long the American military should remain in Iraq is any serious consideration of what the Iraqi people themselves think about how long the American military should remain in Iraq. A number of stories over the past few weeks, including an excellent one in this morning’s Washington Post strongly indicate that they’re just not that into it.
Along with more personnel, our military needs additional equipment in order to make up for its recent losses and modernize. We can partially offset some of this additional investment by cutting wasteful spending. But we can also afford to spend more on national defense, which currently consumes less than four cents of every dollar that our economy generates — far less than what we spent during the Cold War. We must also accelerate the transformation of our military, which is still configured to fight enemies that no longer exist.
So on the one hand, defense cuts will pay for tax cuts. But on the other hand, we need to substantial increase defense spending as a share of GDP to something more like Cold War levels.
Madeleine Albright’s penned a not very enlightening op-ed bemoaning the return of sovereignty and the “death of intervention” in the wake of Iraq. Near the end she says:
The global conscience is not asleep, but after the turbulence of recent years, it is profoundly confused. Some governments will oppose any exceptions to the principle of sovereignty because they fear criticism of their own policies. Others will defend the sanctity of sovereignty unless and until they again have confidence in the judgment of those proposing exceptions.
At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. Is it just a collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled together by governments to protect governments? Or is it a living framework of rules intended to make the world a more humane place?
I think that second paragraph would do well to take the previous paragraph more seriously. The issue at stake is much, much, much less a question of principle than it is a question of practice. I think it’s very easy to conclude that the abstract moral logic of sovereignty-over-all is grossly wrongheaded. But the real issue of how U.S. government policy should be impacted by moral universalism is a practical problem. In the wake of Iraq, few people around the world think “America is sovereign, and also can invade other countries whenever it wants to, but other countries can’t do that” is a viable governing principle for the world order. So insofar as people would like to see certain international norms enforced, actual work needs to be done to make that possible.
Meanwhile, it’s always worth resisting this impulse to identify humanitarianism with the cause of invasions. Being open to immigration and imported goods helps foreigners, costs us nothing, and tends to advance the cause of peace. Preserving good relations between the great powers has major humanitarian benefits as the post-cold war decline in global conflict continues apace. Programs to hand out mosquito nets help people. It’s a kind of madness to assume that military coercion is the be-all and end-all of human betterment.
I haven’t been following the situation in Zimbabwe super closely, but the fact that Desmond Tutu is weighing in and calling on Mugabe to step down seems noteworthy. Mugabe’s regime has clearly been getting a big boost over the years from loyalty that ANCers feel thanks to the help he gave them back when Mugabe’s western critics were mostly on the side of the apartheid government, so it means a lot as we see more and more of the key anti-apartheid leaders breaking with their old ally.
In an exclusive interview, [Bush] expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”
Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”.
I think it probably would have been easier for the president to have avoided giving the impression that he was a “guy really anxious for war” in Iraq if he hadn’t been, you know, a guy really anxious for war in Iraq.
I seriously doubt that Bush regrets his rhetoric as much as he regrets the disaster that his war became. At the time, Bush was having fun playing Churchill, Jr., but he’s begun to realize that, rather than being remembered as Mr. Freedom, he’s more likely to be remembered as Mr. The Guy Whose Rank Incompetence And Insecurity Helped Turn Iraq Into A Sectarian Killing Field, and this displeases him. As it should.
In an interview on NBC’s Today Show, host Matt Lauer asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) about his support for the war in Iraq. Noting that violence has decreased in Iraq, Lauer asked if McCain has a better “estimate” of when he would withdraw troops from the country. “No, but that’s not too important,” McCain responded:
Q: A lot of people now say the surge is working.
McCAIN: Anyone who knows the facts on the ground say that.
Q: If it’s working, senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?
McCAIN: No, but that’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine.
McCain’s comments reflect a deep misunderstanding of the priorities of the public. Sixty-eight percent of Americans oppose the war; 62 percent believe the next president should “try to end the Iraq war within the next year or two, no matter what.”
,Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) remarks:
McCain’s statement today that withdrawing troops doesn’t matter is a crystal clear indicator that he just doesn’t get the grave national-security consequences of staying the course — Osama bin Laden is freely plotting attacks, our efforts in Afghanistan are undermanned, and our military readiness has been dangerously diminished. We need a smart change in strategy to make America more secure, not a commitment to indefinitely keep our troops in an intractable civil war.
,Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) adds: “I think many of our brave soldiers and their families would disagree that it’s ‘not too important’ when they come home.”
This is stunning stuff. Having convinced a swathe of the press that it was unfair of Democrats to accurately quote McCain as saying he had no problem with American troops being in Iraq for 100 years, he’s now back saying it’s “not too important” whether or not our troops ever leave Iraq:
“The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq,” said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament’s foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “If we can’t reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, ‘Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don’t need you here anymore.’ “
And those are the friendly ones, opposition Iraqi politicians have even stronger feelings. Given Iraqi sentiment about this topic, McCain’s vision of a long-time but utterly peaceful presence since extremely difficult to realize. It’s just really, really, really hard to station your troops where they’re not wanted. Meanwhile, amidst his analogies to South Korea and Germany, McCain seems to be missing the part where he explains why making permanent bases our key war aim is a good idea. We maintained our garrison in West Germany because of the Warsaw Pact across the border and you can’t understand why our troops are in South Korea without thinking about North Korea.
But what are they going to be doing in Iraq? Fighting Iran? That seems like a recipe for ensuring that Iraq never becomes peaceful and stable, since if our goal in Iraq is to create a platform for anti-Iranian activities then the Iranians would seem to have no choice but to stir up as much trouble as possible.
The McCain campaign is evidently convinced that it can win a debate about Iraq policy, but the basis for their confidence remains elusive. Here’s a Democracy Corps analysis of 45 Republican-held but maybe winnable congressional districts:
More importantly, when forced to choose between Obama’s proposal for a responsible troop withdrawal and a shift of resources to the U.S. and McCain’s commitment to stay the course but have most troops out of Iraq by 2013, Democrats win the argument by double-digit margins. Engaging in the Iraq debate allows Democrats to reach out to independents and winnable voters well beyond their electoral support.
Given that this is a somewhat right-of-center set of districts, that’s very very bad news for McCain. Under the circumstances, insofar as McCain’s heavy recent focus on
Iraq reflects any kind of political strategy, it seems to me to be a kind of confidence game. Republicans are hoping Democrats will fear the issue and shift the conversation elsewhere. Then they’ll point to the shifting and say, “see! they’re afraid! they know they’re wrong!” And I do think that kind of dynamic might change some people’s minds. Whether or not it’s a good idea to put him on a national ticket, I do think a lot of Democrats running for office could stand to learn from Joe Biden’s confidence and recognize that there’s nothing to be afraid of.